Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans and the program's staff, Kelly's final view and the ultimate reality of an otherwise magical season included a disclaimer:
"Very disappointed in the outcome of the National Championship Game," said Kelly after the initial praise. "On that day, Alabama was the winner by 28 points, and it's our job to begin work as to how we close that gap. That gap on that day was certainly one that we got a chance to experience.
"Here's the great thing for me," he continued. "In three short years, when I stood before our team (in 2010), we did not have one player on our roster that had beaten a top 25 team. Three years later, we're playing in the national Championship game with 15-plus starters coming back.
"So really excited about the progress that our program has made in a very short period of time. We know what it looks like now relative to the National Championship game, and our workouts now will be in the off season focused on getting back to that game.
"As I told our team, I met with them on (Sunday), 'We have some work to do.' There is no question. But we know where we want to go. We know that we're capable of getting back to the National Championship Game, and we started that journey two weeks ago."
That journey includes the requisite recovery phase, for which Kelly offered updates on his ailing personnel.
Surgery SeasonKey to Notre Dame's 12-game win streak last fall was a dearth of injuries to top-level players, at least after backup tight end Alex Welch (mid-August), first-time expected starting corner Lo Wood (late-August), and 5th-year senior star Jamoris Slaughter (East Lansing) were knocked from the field all prior to the conclusion of a Game Three win at Michigan State.
There were, however, a handful of reserves in need of in-season surgery and a pair of starters that played through pain.
"Bennett Jackson had that shoulder tighten up," said Kelly of an injury Irisheyes.com was told existed prior to the 2012 season. "He had that labrum tear that needed to be addressed.
"(Linebacker) Dan Fox had a similar surgery that we feel like all of these guys that had the shoulder surgeries are going to be back for us.They probably won't participate in the spring, but they'll be in a non contact situation."
(Junior defensive end Chase Hounshell had shoulder surgery in September but was not directly addressed in yesterday's update.)
"We feel really good about the things that we have to clean up. We don't see any long term issues with any of our returning players."
That includes twice-injured safety Austin Collinsworth, the 2011 squad's special teams demon who missed last season with shoulder surgery following the Blue Gold Game, and the bowl season due to a discectomy (back surgery).
"We haven't gotten any kind of reports yet," said Kelly officially of Collinsworth's recovery "But he's at our meeting and all indications are that he's going to be ready to go."
Collinsworth has two seasons of eligibility remaining after missing 2012.
Also on the mend is the aforementioned Wood, whose recovery from a torn Achilles suffered last August appears ahead of schedule. "Lo Wood is progressing really well, and all of the reports I've gotten from (trainer) Rob Hunt have been really positive relative to Lo and him coming back for us," Kelly said.
"(Senior) Tate Nichols, on the other hand, is not as confident that he'll be able to return to action. So we're in conversation about that being a medical situation with Tate."
A backup right tackle, Nichols has twice injured his patellar and missed the bulk of the last two seasons as a result. Should Nichols accept a medical scholarship, he can remain at the University but not play or practice football. Former teammates Brad Carrico (OG) and Nichols' classmate Cam Roberson (RB) did the same last August.